There has been a spate of 'investigative' reports and analyses in the Indian media of late, which have all taken Indian defence research efforts to task, with special focus on the the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The criticisms range from the mundane to the mind-boggling with the common ones being: The DRDO is a white elephant that does not produce enough output justifying its 'bloated' budget. Two major grievances are:

  • Most big projects undertaken by the DRDO to date, such as the Arjun tank, the Light Combat Aircraft etc. have been 'failures.' The Tejas has proved its mettle and is currently in operation with the IAF 
  • The Indian armed forces still have to shop for weapons abroad despite decades of multi-crore government investments in DRDO. 

In a report published more than a decade ago, but holds relevance even today, Kaushik Kapisthalam a US-based South Asia analyst writes. The above allegations, some of which have become ingrained in Indian media circles over the years, are now almost accepted as fact by almost every person who wishes to criticise the Indian defence industry.

In the strategic arena, IGMDP has successfully developed the Prithvi series of short-range ballistic missiles and the Agni series of intermediate-range ballistic missiles, both of which are nuclear capable and in serial production.

The reader may wonder why there are regular tests of these missiles, if they are all ready to use. This is because once a particular system is developed, DRDO has to work with its end user, be it the Army, Navy or the Air Force to fine tune it to meet the user's requirements. The Prithvi is among the most modern short-range battlefield missiles in the world. It has the highest warhead-weight to overall-weight of any missile in its class, a testament to the ingenuity of the designers. Prithvi-I is the army variant currently deployed by the 333rd missile regiment. Prithvi-II is the Air Force variant and currently with the IAF. Prithvi-III is a submarine fired variant, just tested successfully. Dhanush is a surface ship-launched variant, also tested successfully. The Agni series has had the most spectacular success among all DRDO made missiles. Clearly, it is hard to make an argument that DRDO has not delivered on the nuclear/missile front. They did the job when no one else would. 


Moving on to the defence systems that are expensive to procure from abroad, one needs to look at the full picture. For the Army, the systems needed include Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), Artillery, and Radars etc. But so far, the Indian media has exclusively focused on DRDO's Arjun MBT project, which has been deemed a disaster because the Army has still not used it after 30 years and over Rs 300 crores of development cost.

The tank has been trashed in the Indian press through the oft-used 'anonymous' sources at Army HQ. It is said it is 'too heavy' and 'slow' and it's 'too expensive' etc. Other media experts trumpet excerpts from reports by Parliamentary defence committees and the Comptroller and Auditor General pointing out problems with the Arjun project. One could write a book debunking these claims, but it would suffice to say that the Arjun tank, as it stands today, meets almost all the Army's General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRs) which is what the designers go by. But the Army changed the GSQRs repeatedly. The original requirement was for a 40-ton tank armed with a 105mm gun, and DRDO had to start from scratch. Midway through this process, the Army changed its requirement to a 120mm gun armed heavier tank, capable of going toe-to-toe with the Chinese and Pakistani tanks. Those were the benchmarks that the Arjun had to meet and the Arjun of today is more than a match for the Abrams and equivalent Western tanks in terms of armour, firepower, mobility and protection. It is also worthy to note that Arjun beat the Russian T-90 "Bhishma" hands down during a recent one to one performance and evaluation tests. It was a remarkable victory which was evidently under-reported by the media.

Now, if the Arjun is not exactly what the armoured corps wanted, the blame goes equally to army officials who set the requirements along with DRDO. While the Arjun's media trial continues, the project itself resulted in a number of successful spin-offs.

Now let us take a look at DRDO's impressive set of successes in the recent past:


The Nag is a third generation ATMG which works on “fire and forget” principle. It has operational range of 500 m to 4 km (Land version) and 7-10km (when air-launched). It is equipped with highly advanced Imaging Infrared Radar (IRR) seeker along with integrated avionics. This technology is possessed by very few nations. It is equipped with an advanced passive homing guidance system. It has been designed mainly to destroy battle tanks and other heavily armoured targets. It can be launched from land and air-based platforms. DRDO recently concluded a "Pre-Induction" test and the system will be inducted soon.


Rustom-2 belongs to family of UAVs under development, including Rustom-1 and Rustom-H. It is medium-altitude long-endurance drone (MALE). It can fly up to an altitude of 22,000 feet and has endurance of over 20 hours. It is capable of carrying payloads for electronic and signal intelligence missions. It is 9.5 metres long and stands 2.4 metres tall with wingspan of 20.6 metres. It is propelled by two 3-bladed NPO saturn engines. Its tail section comes with T-type vertical stabiliser and high-mounted horizontal tailplane.


INS ARIHANT (S73) is the lead boat in the Arihant class of India’s first indigenously built nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. It is about 111 metres long, 11 metres broad and about 15 metres tall and is designed to be propelled by a Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) that uses enriched uranium as fuel, and light water as both coolant and moderator. The Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) will generate about 80 MWt.

The submarine will eventually be fitted with K-15 underwater fired missiles, which can hit targets 700 km away. The K-15 missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. On 13 December 2014, Arihant emerged partially submerged from the breakwaters of the Visakhapatnam harbour, marking a step in validation of indigenous technologies and sailed north along the Bay of Bengal coast off for its extensive sea trials

INS Kalvari (S21) is the first of the six Kalvari-class submarine currently in service with the Indian Navy. It is a diesel-electric attack submarine. The submarine was designated as Yard 11875 at Mazagon Dock Limited and construction began on 14 December 2006 with the first cutting of steel. Kalvari-class is capable of offensive operations across the entire spectrum of naval warfare including anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, mine laying and area surveillance. It is active since Oct 2017, INS Khanderi, INS Karanj the second & third vessels are expected to undergo sea trails soon.


DRDO has undertaken a series of tests of production and under development missiles for various operational requirements. All the tests carried during the past one year has been highly successful. The missiles include Akash, Agni Series Astra, BrahMos, Dhanush, K-4, Nirbhay, Pragati, Prithvi, Sagarika K-15 and Prahaar missiles.


Tejas, is India’s second indigenous fighter aircraft, which is all set to replace the MiG-21 series. Though initially deemed a failure by a frenzied and partisan and vociferous media, the Tejas is expectedly heading to a spectacular success.

Tejas is the smallest, light weight, single engine, single seat, supersonic, multirole, combat aircraft, and best in its class in the world. It has many features of stealth fighter aircraft. This fourth generation combat aircraft has Carbon Composites, light weight/high strength material for primary structures, quadruplex Digital Flight Control System; glass Cockpit and digital Avionics to give multirole capabilities with carefree maneuvering. These capabilities are further raised by several on-board Sensors, Communication and Navigation Systems that are supported by powerful Mission Computers and Cockpit Display System.


DRDO is developing an advanced, state-of-the-art Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM) system. During captive flight trials DRDO scientist will evaluate performance of the missile’s heat seeker, structural capability, navigation and control system and aerodynamic vibrations. It is capable of targeting enemy’s air defence capabilities by attacking radars and communication facilities by picking up the radiation or signals from these facilities. The missile uses dual pulse propulsion instead of thrust propulsion.


SDR is radio communication system where components that have been traditionally implemented in hardware are instead implemented by means of software on personal computer or embedded system. The SDR technology will improve information sharing and situational awareness through secure voice communications and data transfer capabilities.


It is India’s first indigenously designed and developed Long Range Sub-Sonic Cruise Missile. It has blended missile and aeronautical technologies which allows it to take off vertically like missile and cruise horizontally like an aircraft.

It is two stage missile powered by solid rocket motor booster developed by Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL) It has operational range of 1,000 km and can carry warheads of up to 300 kg including nuclear warheads. It can be launched from various kind of platforms.


The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has successfully tested indigenously developed lightweight glide bomb Smart Anti Airfield Weapon (SAAW).

Total of three tests with different release conditions and ranges were conducted at Chandipur in Odisha and were all successful. The bomb was fired from an air force aircraft and was guided through precision navigation system. It reached the targets at greater than 70 km range, with high accuracies.


ATAGS is fully indigenously developed by DRDO and private sector consortium consisting of Bharat Forge Limited of Kalyani Group, TATA Power Strategic Engineering Division and Mahindra Defence Naval System along with Ordnance Factory Board. in mission mode as a part of the Army’s artillery modernisation program. It has a longer firing range of 40 Kms with accuracy and precision and provides greater fire power. It is also has night firing capability in direct fire mode. ATAGS has been configured with all electric drive in order to ensure maintenance free and reliable operation over a longer period of time.It also has advanced features in terms of high mobility, quick deployability, auxiliary power mode, advanced communication system, automatic command and control system.


Astra is air to air beyond visual range air-to-air indigenously developed by DRDO. It is one of the smallest weapon system developed by DRDO, having length of 3.8-metre and weighing 154 kg. It is single stage solid fuelled missile and has payload capacity of 15 kg conventional explosives.

It is air-to-air beyond-visual-range (BVR) all-weather missile that can be launched from different altitudes. Capable of engaging and destroying highly maneuverable supersonic aerial targets and destroy enemy aircraft at supersonic speed of 1.2 Mach to 1.4 Mach. It should be noted that it is radar homing missile. It can engage targets in head-on up to 80 km and tail-chase up to 20 km modes and can reach up to 110 km when fired from an altitude of 15 km and 44 km when launched from an altitude of 8 km and 21 km when fired from sea level.

The missile can be integrated with fighter aircraft including Sukhoi-30 MKI, Mirage-2000, MiG-29, Jaguar and the Tejas.


Muntra-S is the country’s first tracked unmanned ground vehicle (tank) developed for unmanned surveillance missions. Muntra-M is for detecting mines and Muntra-N is for operation in areas where there is nuclear radiation or biological weapon risk. It is also likely to be used in Naxal-hit areas.


The advanced Medium Range Surface to Air Missiles (MRSAM) defence system is an all weather, mobile, land-based air defence system. It can shoot down enemy ballistic missiles, aircraft, helicopters, drones, surveillance aircraft and AWACS aircraft. It is capable of engaging multiple aerial targets at ranges of more than 50 km.


Quick Reaction-Surface to Air Missile has been designed to be a quick reaction missile. It is an all-weather weapon system capable of tracking and firing at short notice. The missile has a strike range of 25 to 30 km and can engage multiple targets. QR-SAM will complement the existing Akash short range SAM (surface-to-air missile) with a range of 25 kilometres which has already been inducted into the services.


The DRDO has handed over three naval systems to the Indian Navy. These latest systems will significantly enhance the navy’s navigation and communication network.

The naval systems given to Indian Navy are:

  • USHUS-II submarine sonar
  • Abhay Compact Hull-Mounted Sonar for Small Ships & Shallow Water Crafts
  • NACS (Near-field Acoustic Characterization System) for Ship Sonars
  • AIDSS (Advanced Indigenous Distress Sonar System) for Submarines
  • Advanced Torpedo Defence System (Mareech)
  • Multi Influence Ground Mines
  • Directing gear for hull-mounted sonar array
  • Inertial navigation system for ship applications
  • IP-based secure phone
  • Gallium Nitride Technology: It will substantially help in the development of next generation radars, seekers and communication systems, for application in Tejas


DRDO has developed advanced Precision-Guided Munitions (PGMs). PGMs are miniaturized missiles with small seekers, actuators and on-board computers and will be integrated with tactical missiles having a range of 100-200 km. PGMs could prevent collateral damage while attacking multiple targets in a war scenario with sub-metre accuracy. PGMs could be integrated with a surface-to-surface missile or an air-to-surface missile. PGMs are fired from a mother missile at various targets simultaneously.


‘SWATHI’ is an indigenously developed Weapon Locating Radar (WLR) system used by the Indian Army. It has a range of 50 km which brings all artillery guns presently in service worldwide under its coverage. It performs two roles, Weapon Location Mode of enemy artillery and and Artillery and Direction of Own artillery Fire (DOOAF). Provides quick, automatic and accurate location of all enemy weapons like mortars, shells and rockets firing within its effective zone of coverage. Simultaneously it can handle multiple projectiles fired from different weapons at different locations. It can also direct artillery response based on the incoming enemy fire.


Developed by DRDO’s Vehicles Research & Development Establishment (VRDE) for carrying out post event recce of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) contaminated areas. It is capable of collecting solid and liquid samples of biologically contaminated areas, mark the nuclear and chemical contamination zone and transfer the recce data speedily to support formations.


India has a great deal of territory to cover and in recent years it has been shifting toward aircraft that would give it the ability to patrol and provide broader aircraft coverage, provide enhanced situational awareness to act at extended ranges. India has moved to implement AWACS capabilities and the goal is to field a Tier 2 platform based on an indigenous radar and electronics, allowing India to join the global ranks of AWACS designers.

The Airborne Surveillance System is a game changer in air warfare. The AEW&C System incorporates state-of-the art Active Electronically Scanned Radar, Secondary Surveillance Radar, Electronic and Communication Counter Measures, LOS (Line of Sight) and beyond LOS data link, voice communication system and self protection suite, built on an Emb-145 platform, having an air to air refueling capability to enhance surveillance time. A Complex tactical software has been developed for fusion of information from the sensors, to provide the air situation picture along with intelligence to handle identification/classification threat assessment. Battle management functions are built in house to work as a network centric system of Integrated Air Command & Control System (IACCS) node.


Akash (in English it means sky) is a mid-range surface-to-air missile (SAM). The missile has supersonic speeds ranging from Mach 2.8 to 3.5. It has capability to carry warhead of 60 kg. It can engage aerial targets up to a range of approximately 25 kms. It is powered by Ramjet-rocket propulsion system (RRPS) which renders thrust for the missile to intercept the target at supersonic speed without any retardation. It is capable of neutralising aerial targets like cruise missiles, fighter jets and air-to-surface missiles.


The guided version Pinaka Mark-II is an evolved version of Pinaka Mark-I. The earlier Pinaka version was an unguided one, now it has been transformed into guided version with a navigation, guidance and control kit developed.


The Varunastra torpedo weighs around 1.25 tonnes and carries about 250 kg of explosives at a speed of around 40 nautical miles an hour. It has almost 95% indigenous content. It is capable of targeting stealthy and quiet submarines, both in deep and littoral waters in intense countermeasure environment. It has advanced autonomous guidance algorithms with low drift navigational aids, insensitive warhead which can operate in various combat scenarios. It has integrated instrumentation system for recording its all the dynamic parameters in case of emergency shut down or malfunction.


Dhanush 155 MM/52 calibre towed artillery gun is based on the 1980s’ Bofors FH-77B/39 Calibre artillery gun design. It boasts a range of 45 km with accuracy and precision and provides greater fire power, depending on the type of ammunition used. It also has night firing capability in direct fire mode. It has several significant features such as an all-electric drive, quick deployability, high mobility, auxiliary power mode, advanced communication system, and automated command and control system.


Barak-8 (Lightning in Hebrew) is long-range nuclear capable missile, developed jointly by Israel and India. It is 4.5-meter long and weighs around 3 tonnes can carry a payload of 70 kilograms. It has a speed of Mach 2. It has the capacity to identify and neutralize various forms of aerial threats such as rockets, UAVs, planes, helicopters in a single flight. Its most technologically advanced aspect is its ability to intercept missiles aimed at sea-bound vessels.


The Sonar Dome functions as the ship’s underwater eyes and ears and mostly all anti-submarine warfare (ASW) ships have a sonar array fitted to the ship structure below the waterline. The sonar dome is a structure is fitted over the sonar array to make it acoustically transparent in order to avoid exposure of its electronics and sensors to surrounding hostile environment. With successfully building indigenous sonar dome, India joins a select group of nations which have the capability of realising large composites structure with complex geometry, high structural rigidity and multi-functional requirements with acoustic transparency.


Aeronautical Test Range (ATR) is the first of its kind range that has been set up by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE). The facility is meant to conduct flight-tests of indigenous unmanned and manned aircrafts such as naval and trainer versions of the Tejas, the unmanned air vehicles- Rustom-I and Rustom-II (Tapas); the Airborne Early Warning & Control Systems (AEW&C), Air-to-Ground weapons, parachutes and aerostats, etc.


Kaushik concludes the impasse, "It is not at all hard to write a balanced report, as the above example shows, but once one brings in hard facts, it tends to blunt the report's objective in bashing DRDO." Perhaps this is why most Indian DRDO-bashing reports stick to old myths and fallacies. In summary, the cup is not necessarily half empty when it comes to India's indigenous defence research and development. In fact, it may even be three-quarters full, when one considers how far our scientists and engineers have come since DRDO was set up in 1958. There are still many challenges, including the need for better communication between DRDO and the defence services, especially the Army, the bureaucratic delays, the large number of non-productionised projects and the services' continuing reliance on foreign nations for critical defence technology. The Indian media must keep reporting these issues to keep DRDO on its toes. But the time has also come for the Indian media to bring the defence reporting at an objective level rather than using old shibboleths to tarnish local defence R&D efforts.

Our Bureau